Up to 1,000 members (nearly 20% of the membership) of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon will be receiving letters of potential disenrollment, resulting in what could be the largest termination of American Indian citizenship in United States history.
15 members of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde have already been disenrolled, and 79 cases are pending the outcome of hearings scheduled for December. These are the result of the second wave of disenrollment letters that were sent out in September. Tribal Council refuses to discuss the matter, with Tribal Councilman Toby McClary publicly stating that he did not want to disclose the details and incite panic within the membership.
The Grand Ronde Tribal Council’s mass disenrollment efforts contribute to a national Indian disenrollment epidemic, with disenrollment “expanding throughout Native America, with Native nations in at least seventeen states engaging in this practice,” according to leading tribal political scientist, David Wilkins (Indian Country Today).
Mass tribal disenrollments have broken out in Washington State and California and now Oregon (Seattle Times; New York Times).
The disenrollment proceedings stemmed from an illegal audit of the Tribe’s membership rolls by an outside auditing firm based in New Mexico and include nine sets of parameters, including dual enrollment, lineal descent, blood quantum, adoption and paternity.
One of the families facing disenrollment are the descendants of Chief Tumulth, who was a signatory of the seminal 1855 Kalapuya Treaty (also known as the Treaty of the Willamette Valley and the Dayton Treaty). Tumulth was the first chief of the Watlala Band of Chinook Indians, or “Cascade Indians,” whose ceded lands extended from Cascade Locks west to Ft. Vancouver on both sides of the Columbia River, following the Sandy River into Portland including Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the Columbia Gorge.
“We are appalled that our own tribe, our own relatives, are claiming that we are some how no longer Grand Ronde. We descend directly from a tribal Chief, a man who signed the Treaty that would later establish the Grand Ronde Reservation,” stated family spokesperson, Mia Prickett.
This all comes after Grand Ronde aggressively exploited Chief Tumulth’s indigenous ties to the Columbia Gorge in efforts to fend off other Oregon tribes from engaging in traditional and commercial activities in the area.
“What my entire family is now facing is nothing short of cultural genocide,” continued Prickett. “Grand Ronde was terminated by the federal government in the early 1950s. And now our own people are seeking to eliminate our tribal existence.”
After President Ronald Reagan restored the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1983, Chief Tumulth’s direct descendants applied for membership and were unanimously approved for Grand Ronde citizenship. By 1994, the 7thgeneration of Tumulth’s family was enrolled as Grand Ronde members.
Now thirty years later, upon the eve of the 30thRestoration Celebration, the Grand Ronde Tribal Council seeks to disenroll the entire family. The Tribe has commissioned videos that run on a loop at Spirit Mountain Casino, in both the lobby and hotel rooms, which reference the family and Chief Tumulth. The family is also highlighted in several tribal publications that span from the Tribal Newsletter, Smoke Signals, to slicks on ceded lands and tribal history and even on informational brochures at Multnomah Falls.
Most recently, Grand Ronde received a prestigious award for conservation efforts in the Gorge, related to the Tribe’s stewardship of Chief Tumulth’s ceded lands. Present at this private gala was Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.
Chief Tumulth’s direct descendants are involved with the tribe on several levels, including being members of the Canoe Family, teaching the tribal language Chinuk Wawa, and participating in ceremonies as drummers. Other family members include World War II Veteran, Lt. Colonel Carroll Grenia; Chuck Williams, published photographer and author of “Bridge of the Gods, Mountains of Fire”; Gorge conservationist Valerie Alexander; and Medical Doctor Lise Alexander.
“This isn’t just about me and my family. This is about the other 900 tribal members who will find a letter of potential disenrollment in their mailbox. This is about all of us,” concluded Prickett.